After four years of revisions, a smaller and more parklike version of Frank Gehry’s modern design for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial received final approval from one of two key government agencies Thursday.
But the long-sought victory was dampened by blistering criticism from a House budget committee, which voted earlier in the week to zero out all funding for the project and called for a new commission staff and a new design competition. The Senate bill provides $1 million for operations but no construction funding.
The opposing votes are typical of public reaction to the proposed Eisenhower Memorial, which has been praised and criticized since its design was unveiled in 2010 for a four-acre site along Independence Avenue between the National Air and Space Museum and the Education Department.
Gehry proposed an urban park featuring a stainless steel tapestry at its southern edge evoking a Midwestern landscape, a nod to Eisenhower’s Kansas childhood. Stone columns define the park’s perimeter, and statuary of Eisenhower as a youth, as the 34th president and as a War World II general make up its core.
Despite revisions that have reduced the number of columns and tapestries, the design has been criticized by Eisenhower’s grandchildren, who last fall asked the memorial commission to scrap it in favor of a new competition. That idea was echoed this week by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), chair of the subcommittee that funds the project.
“It simply defies logic and decency to design and build a memorial to Dwight Eisenhower without obtaining the approval of the Eisenhower family,” Calvert said in an e-mail. “The Commission should review its process and more effectively engage with members of the Eisenhower family to develop a memorial that will make their family and our nation proud.”
Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr. (D-Ga.), a member of the commission, disputed the claim that the family’s wishes have been ignored and rejected the call for a “reset.”
“It makes little sense to throw away $40 million in taxpayer dollars that have been used to come to this consensus over the design and start all over,” Bishop said. “If we have to start over there won’t be any World War II veterans left to witness the opening.”
The commission has received $46.4 million from the federal government since 1999, when the project was created by Congress. Its 2016 budget request sought $2 million for operations and $68 million for construction. The balance of the estimated $140 million memorial would be raised through private donations.
The memorial commission reacted to the House criticism by saying the recommendation “failed to consider the significant strides the memorial design has made as it has progressed through the federal approval process.”
Brig. Gen. Carl Reddel, the memorial commission’s executive director, predicted the project would overcome the challenge.
“The underlying support and power of the Eisenhower legacy remains strong,” Reddel said. “We are combining a world-class art with a world-class legacy.”
Members of the Commission of Fine Arts agreed, praising the many revisions after a unanimous vote to approve the plan.
“I think you have done a very good job over the last year to take this design and make it better,” said Alex Krieger. “The memorial is as much a park environment and it is a great contribution to the city.”
Long-standing critic Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society, said he hoped Congress would stop the design, which he called “another travesty of public art” that suggests “America would appear to be in decline.”
Elizabeth Meyer took issue with his view. “Societies that are not in decline create art of their own time,” she said. “I appreciate the experimentation and the desire for a memorial to not be fixed in a 19th- or early 20th-century format.”
The commission will bring the revised design to the National Capital Planning Commission on July 9 for its final approval.